Lipschultz Center for Cognitive Neuroscience

The Lipschultz Center for Cognitive Neuroscience is dedicated to understanding the neural circuit mechanisms of higher cognitive function, and applying this knowledge to the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of cognitive function in humans. The motivation for the research conducted in this center comes from the intersection of a number of streams of investigation in the field of neuroscience.

Our current investigations include:

  • Recent years have seen an explosion of new technological advances that allow monitoring and manipulation of the activity of brain cells at previously unimaginable scales. We are now able to discern the involvement of very precisely defined neural circuits in behavior in ways that were not possible even five years ago.
  • Comparative neuroanatomy and neurobiology, using high-resolution neuroimaging as well as quantitative microscopic analysis of central nervous system ultrastructure, have illuminated the relationship between structure and function in the brain across the evolutionary scale. This has pointed to the critical importance of, for example, nonhuman primate models in cognitive neuroscience given the presence of anatomic specializations in primate brains in circuits involved in higher cognition.
  • The origins of many neuropsychiatric and neurological disorders in humans are found early in development, with early perturbations in the brain setting the stage for dysfunction later in life. Thus the study of the circuit mechanisms of cognitive function in the context of development is vital to understanding how diseases of thought and cognition occur.
  • Neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by extremely prolonged prodromal phases, where the disease process is active perhaps for several decades while behavioral and cognitive symptoms are either subtle or nonexistent. This points to the extraordinary plasticity and resilience of the brain as it maintains function in the face of compromised structure, but also poses a challenge for understanding disease processes and developing interventions that are effective in heading off damage to neural circuits before it becomes entrenched.

Research

Research in the center spans a variety of experimental models, including mice, rats, nonhuman primates, and humans, at all phases of the lifespan from early development to advanced aging. Our projects include fundamental research on circuit mechanisms of behavior, the study of neural circuits in animal models of neurological and neurodegenerative disease, and the characterization of mechanisms of dysfunction in humans with impaired cognition because of disease.

Members of the center are engaged in a number of research projects, including:

  • Technology development for neuromodulation and activity visualization in defined neural circuits in the nonhuman primate brain
  • Behavioral analyses of mouse models of autism and Parkinson's disease with a focus on understanding the impact of specific genetic influences on neural circuits involved in decision-making
  • Determining the mechanisms that predispose some older humans to develop cognitive impairments after surgery
  • Identifying the relationship between synaptic damage and cognitive impairment during the hypothesized earliest phases of Alzheimer's disease pathogenesis, in a novel nonhuman primate model
  • Understanding the nature of the neural code for reward in the primate brain in neural circuits that are adversely affected in mood and anxiety disorders
  • Defining the neural mechanisms by which prefrontal cortical circuits are able to efficiently organize and maintain information held in the focus of attention
  • Testing neuroprotective strategies to prevent synaptic damage and neurocognitive impairment after exposure to general anesthesia early in life